- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Global Warming: Test of Capitalist Democracy?

A little bit of evidence that the climate - global warming and other environmental issues, are finally really being noticed - and taken into account, by the wider finance and investment community. The article quotes an interesting New York Times article on the topic in relation to real estate and insurance:

The Real Riddle of Changing Weather: How Safe is My Home?

Maybe a little bit of hyperbole, but then again maybe we should be considering these things when signing up for a 30yr mortgage. In any case, it certainly does show how far public opinion has changed in the past few years. Even Mayor Bloomberg has announced a long term plan setting out some fairly ambitious plans for the city in terms of sustainability. A lot of wording in there about need for "infrastructure". In the past, that has been a codeword for more highways and roads, but there is a lot more about transit infrastructure in this plan. I am sure there are many who will be watching the DOT and others very closely to see that they put the money where Bloomberg's mouth is.

I am rooting for capitalist democracy of course. It will no doubt help us pull through this challenge. Many new industries are already riding the wave of popular demand for action. However, as at any time of rapid change, there are those on the "losing side" who will oppose. The strongest subversionary pressure is likely to come from already powerful industries such as the auto industry that have the money and will to try to divert popular will or at least attention. The old guard (auto industry) is already having a tough time economically and probably will continue to do so for a very long time. But they do still wield significant power and are putting up a hell of a fight. But inevitably, they will either change course or find themselves on the wrong side of the zeitgeist. If capitalist democracy takes its course, other new (and greener) industries will surely take their place relatively smoothly. That is the way of the market. Apathy has in the past been a problem, but it looks like the internet is helping to change that and more people are demanding proper accountability.

This is where politics comes in of course. We need politicians to represent the will of the people in seeing this change happen. In this, it is absolutely fantastic to see the environment finally getting broad bi-partisan political support in the United States, from Bloomberg on the East Coast to Arnie in the West. Pity about Washington of course, but it can't be long now surely. The broader international arena is where the real test lies of course. There are signs that China's leaders are beginning to come around, but still all we hear these days is talk of more roads and "infrastructure" (aka roads).

As an aside, it is a great shame to see Beijing using the olympics as an excuse to tear down its old city and replace it with auto-friendly infrastructure USA style. It is exactly what Tokyo did in the 60's and residents are still trying to have these highways removed. Interestingly, one place in Tokyo (Nihonbashi, once the pride of Tokyo and even called Venice of the East, but now a concrete pit with some slimey water surrounded by roads and covered by a highway) that was particularly ruined by this auto-network building orgy in the buildup to the 60's Tokyo olympics may see the highway removed and some of the canal's former glory restored in what seems to be the beginnings of a radical shift of political will on transport policy even here in Tokyo. If only Tokyo could find the courage to run its own Olympic bid on a platform of replacing the auto-network it installed for its previous olympics with greenways and public transit.

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